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Minneapolis Parks Provide a Pathway to Youth Sports

As we bid adieu to winter sports, I was struck this year by the increasingly critical role parks play in supporting winter youth sports including hockey, basketball, skiing, and snowboarding.

In January I was delighted to see North Commons Park filled with families cheering on two recreation league hockey teams playing on the outdoor hockey rink. Minneapolis was one of the storylines in this year’s Minnesota Boys State High School Hockey Tournament, with a unity team that included athletes from all seven Minneapolis district high schools. Many of these players grew up playing hockey at their local park rink under the lights and have now graduated to practicing with their teams at Parade Ice Garden and Northeast Ice Arena – two gems within the Minneapolis Park system. 

In Nordic sports, Minneapolis hosted the US Junior National Championships at Wirth Park in partnership with the Loppet Foundation. Skiers from around the country participated in one of the premiere annual cross-country ski youth events. The course at Wirth Park was the most urban course for US Nationals ever. And just last week, I watched young snowboarders demonstrate skills they learned this winter though a program also run by Melanin in Motion with The Loppet and supported in part by a People for Parks Fund grant committed to introducing youth of color to snowboarding.

In addition to outdoor sports, basketball games fill our recreation centers over the winter – introducing hundreds of Minneapolis youth to organized competition and skill development through cross-town matches between neighborhood parks. This week the Minneapolis North High School Polars are once again in the Boys State Basketball Tournament, with all of its players starting out on park teams, mostly North Commons Park and Creekview Park. While fewer and fewer elementary schools have organized teams, most recreation centers are oversubscribed with team sports each year. The number of teams playing in park leagues grew significantly this winter with 31 hockey teams and 151 basketball teams. The desire to connect through sports is increasing each year.

Many outdoor winter sports, particularly those requiring expensive equipment and access to open space, have trended to attract more affluent, less racially diverse teams. Minneapolis Parks and their partners are making concerted efforts to remove the barriers that prevent all kids from getting exposed to a new sport by providing venues (ski hills, ice rinks, court time, and groomed trails) and equipment for more kids to get out and play.  

It’s with this framing in mind, that we are excited by future investments and opportunities in Minneapolis parks for kids to discover something in themselves, especially in a time when many kids have been out of school for myriad reasons. I am energized to see how parks create new discoveries for young athletes and places for them to connect to what might hopefully become life-long connection to sport, play, and wellness. 

Featured Image Credit: Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, taken Saturday March 19, 2022 at the “Burton Mystery Series with Melanin in Motion”, hosted by The Loppet.

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